October 18, 2021

The Heart-Wrenching RATCATCHER

RATCATCHER (Blu-ray Review)
1999 / 93 min

FROM CRITERION COLLECTION

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😿

Something tells me Ratcatcher will never air on The Hallmark Channel.

At first, we assume young Ryan Quinn is the protagonist, since the opening 10 minutes follows him as he breaks from his mother’s protection to play near a creek with James Gillespie (William Eadie), another kid from the same decrepit Glasgow neighborhood. However, James accidentally drowns him, then runs away from the scene, hoping no one saw him.


James’ life sucks, though we get the impression that, until the drowning, he was blissfully unaware how awful things really were. His family lives in the worst neighborhood in town, exacerbated by a local garbage strike. The government is slowly trying to relocate families to more livable housing, but until then, the Gillespies dwell in squalor. There’s no toilet, vermin are everywhere and their street is clogged with mountains of trash. Since Dad (Tommy Flanagan) is constantly drunk, Mom does most of the parenting, which includes regularly brushing lice from her kids’ heads. But for the most part, the family remains optimistic life will change for the better once they’re relocated.


Outside of the house, we meet the kids James usually hangs out with (none of whom appear to be going to school), including a local gang who bully others and regularly team up to rape Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen), an older girl with whom he forms an intimate (non-sexual) bond. Then there’s Kenny, a slow-witted animal lover whose pets generally end up dying, such as his mouse, Snowflake, which he tries sending to the moon by tying a balloon to its tail. 


All the while, Ryan’s death weighs heavily on James, as does the growing hopelessness he feels as life trudges on as usual. Aside from brief comfort in Margaret Anne’s company, he finds respite taking solitary bus trips to a housing development still under construction. Wandering the rooms and halls, taking-in all the accoutrements the Gillespies don't have, he briefly imagines living in comparative luxury before being forced to return to reality, which is becoming increasingly unbearable. 


Losing the remote is hell.
From the opening scene, Ratcatcher is relentlessly bleak, its pessimistic tone broken only once, when the narrative pauses to depict Snowflake’s whimsical balloon voyage to the moon, where he frolics with its fellow rodents. Initially, it seems wildly out-of-place compared to the rest of the film’s stifling oppressiveness. However, with hindsight, the denouement ultimately reveals this seemingly innocuous scene to be an ominous piece of foreshadowing. 

But despite the somber narrative and depressing aesthetics - aided immeasurably by suitably drab cinematography - Ratcatcher is engaging. Mostly devoid of feel-good moments, we’re nevertheless invested in the Gillespies. James, in particular, more than earns our empathy, even though he’s not always a particularly nice kid. But writer-director Lynne Ramsay certainly demonstrates a knack for creating vivid, authentic sounding child characters, meaning James behaves and reacts much like any real kid would under such circumstances.


Ramsay would go on to greater notoriety with such dark excursions as We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here, but she earned her stripes as modern cinema’s preeminent Debbie Downer with this, her debut feature. As such, Ratcatcher may not be an entertaining film, though it’s certainly a compelling one.


EXTRA KIBBLES

DIRECTOR INTERVIEWS - Two separate interviews with director Lynne Ramsay, from 2022 & 2021.

3 SHORT FILMS - “Small Deaths,” “Kill the Day” and “Gasman,” all made prior to Ratcatcher...and just as uplifting.

AUDIO INTERVIEW - With cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler.

SUPPLEMENTARY INSERT - “A Flashlight Camera,” an essay by author/critic Girish Shambu; “Spine Number 162,” an essay by writer-director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).

October 17, 2021

DEMONS I & II: Nostalgic Nastiness

DEMONS I & II (Blu-ray Review)
1985 & 1986 / 180 min (2 movies)

FROM SYNAPSE FILMS

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

On this side of the pond, Demons and Demons 2 were perennial home video favorites among the hard core horror crowd, achieving a sizable cult following along the way. Venture into any mom & pop video store during the ‘80s and chances were the boxes and tapes for these two titles were among the most battered & tattered, the likely result of word-of-mouth advertising (“Dude, you gotta check this shit out!”). Whether or not these Italian splatterfests were actually any good was always a matter of perspective.

From a narrative standpoint, there’s only marginally more plot and character development than you'd find in a video game. In 1985’s Demons, several people are invited to the premiere of a new horror movie at a local theater. This movie-within-the-movie starts turning patrons into bloodthirsty monsters, save for a few characters we’re expected to root for because they’re the last ones left. The plot of Demons 2, which followed a year later, is nearly identical, only set in a high-rise apartment building. Since this one ignores the apocalyptic implications of the original’s climax, it could arguably be considered more of a reboot than an actual sequel (a few of the same actors return, playing completely different characters). 

The only thing scarier than a theater full of demons? Those concession prices.
In either case, once the basic scenario is quickly established, the story, characters and logic take a backseat to a non-stop parade of violent mayhem. Despite a team of screenwriters, the complete lack of story expansion suggests they were making things up as they went along (which would explain a previously never-seen helicopter crashing through the theater roof in Demons, thus giving survivors a way out).

However, ‘good’ is in the eye (and ears) of the beholder. Taken as pure sensory experiences, Demons and Demons 2 work quite well. Both films are visual & sonic assaults (’80s style!), so frantically paced that one can probably overlook the piecemeal plot, daffy dialogue and atrocious acting. The horrific make-up effects - especially the demon transformation sequences - are pretty impressive even by today’s standards. And admittedly, there are some nice atmospheric touches that give both settings a creepy vibe, especially in the first film. The visceral thrills are given considerable punch by the booming soundtracks, both combinations of synths (of course) and songs by notable rock artists of the day. Watching a dude ride a motorcycle through a zombie-filled theater while Saxon roars from the speakers is a ridiculously rousing highlight.


Since both films are definitely products of their time, this two-fer from Synapse Films is a pretty cool collection of nostalgic nastiness for anyone who first discovered their gory glories while perusing the horror section of their local video store. In addition to a good selection of new & vintage bonus features, some aesthetic goodies are tossed in that should please die hard fans. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

Demons

3 VERSIONS OF THE FILM - Full-length English & Italian versions; Edited U.S. version.

FEATURETTES -  “Produced by Dario Argento” (visual essay discussing Argento’s career as a producer); “Dario and the Demons: Producing Monster Mayhem”; “Dario’s Demon Days” (interview with Argento); “Defining an Era in Music” (interview with composer Claudio Simonetti); “Splatter Stunt Rock” (interview with stunt coordinator Ottaviano Dell’Acqua).

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) A new one by podcaster Kat Ellinger & Heather Drain; 2) By director Lamberto Bava, FX artist Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti & actor Geretta Giancarlo (listed as Geretta Geretta on the cover) 

TRAILERS

MOVIE TICKET REPLICA - Like the one from the film, with disc transfer specs on the reverse side.

FOLD-OUT POSTER - Demons-inspired artwork by Wes Benscoter.

Demons 2

ENGLISH & ITALIAN LANGUAGE VERSIONS

FEATURETTES - “Creating Creature Carnage” (interview with Sergio Stivaletti); “The Demons Generation” (interview with Roy Bava, Lamberto’s kid); “Screaming for a Sequel: The Delirious Legacy of Demons 2” (interview with director Lamberto Bava); “A Soundtrack for Splatter” (interview with composer Simon Boswell); “Together and Apart” (visual essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas...who’s really reaching here).

AUDIO COMMENTARY - New commentary by critic Travis Crawford.

PARTY INVITATION REPLICA - With disc transfer specs on the reverse side.

TRAILERS

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

October 16, 2021

NO MAN OF GOD: Bill & Ted's Okay Adventure

NO MAN OF GOD (Blu-ray Review)
2021 / 100 min

FROM RLJE FILMS

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Ted Bundy was executed over 30 years ago and we’ve been getting countless books, movies & TV shows about him ever since. Some have been serious examinations of his psyche and notorious history, others were pure exploitation. So not only has he more-or-less remained in our public consciousness, every aspect of his story has pretty much been covered.

No Man of God treads familiar ground, with FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) conducting numerous interviews with Bundy (Luke Kirby) during the years leading up to his execution. In addition to gaining valuable insight on what makes serial killers tick, he’s hoping Bundy to disclose all of his victims to account for many girls who’re still missing.


Ted Bundy...grumpy Gus.
Much of the narrative consists of these interviews, which are based on the actual transcripts. At first, they're verbal cat & mouse games similar to Silence of the Lambs (though not nearly as compelling). Bill eventually earns Ted’s trust, even developing sort of a friendship. However, we ultimately don’t learn anything new about Bundy, his crimes or these conversations. The performances are good and Kirby looks a lot like Bundy, but there’s nothing about the film that feels...well, necessary.

Competently made, No Man of God is a film with no highs or lows. The conversations are somewhat interesting without ever being revealing. It never explores Bundy’s story in much depth (luridly or otherwise), nor do we learn much about Hagmaier beyond a few confessions to his subject. In the end, this Bill & Ted adventure is watchable but unremarkable.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTE - A brief doc featuring interviews with the two stars.

DIGITAL COPY

KITTY CONSENSUS:

NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

October 14, 2021

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN: The Dark Side of '50s Sci-Fi

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (Blu-ray Review)
1957 / 81 min

FROM CRITERION COLLECTION

Review by Mr. Paws😺

The Incredible Shrinking Man was sort-of a rarity at the time...a sci-fi film that belied its sensationalistic title & concept with an intelligent story, believable characters and a bleak, understated denouement. Along with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the film could also be considered one of the earliest examples of ‘body horror.’ 

On paper, the plot certainly smells like teen drive-in fodder - and was often dismissed as such back then - with Scott Carey (Grant Williams) exposed to a mysterious mist while on vacation, which slowly renders him increasingly smaller. Aside from a specialist briefly explaining that Carey’s molecules have somehow been re-arranged, no real reason is given...nor would one really suffice. Besides, what ultimately drives the story is Scott’s distressing psychological descent into...not quite madness, but initial self-loathing, then anger - while alienating his wife - before becoming completely isolated, both by design and through dire circumstances. 


By the final act - now motivated by pure survival instinct - Scott grudgingly accepts his fate and an uncertain future, completing a psychological journey not unlike the five stages of grief.


"I knew we should've gotten a dog."
Of course, what we mostly remember are Scott’s violent clashes with Butch, his beloved cat (!), and the angry spider in his basement, the latter being a fight to the death that - tellingly - Scott instigates. Those scenes remain great fun, with special effects that are still pretty impressive for a 64-year-old film. However, the real horror is what Scott has become, which renders his voiceover coda especially poignant...even if it does sometimes sound a bit overwrought. 

We learn from this disc’s bonus features that Universal originally wanted a happier ending. But considering the consistently somber tone and the protagonist's relentless downward spiral, that would have been a cheap, pandering move. A major reason the film is an unqualified classic is that it
doesn't let the viewer off the hook, leaving them more distressed over Scott's fate than he appears to be. Viewed in the context of when it was made, The Incredible Shrinking Man is actually pretty damn dark.

So it’s about time the film got a decent home video release. The Incredible Shrinking Man has been available on DVD for years, usually squeezed onto a disc with other nostalgic B-movies from the same era. But not only is it being served-up on Blu-ray for the first time with a wonderful 4K restoration, Criterion has thrown-in a big batch of new & vintage bonus features which nicely sum-up the film’s production, influence and legacy. From a historical perspective, this is an essential title for any collection and still a hell of a lot of fun.


EXTRA KIBBLES

“AUTEUR ON THE CAMPUS: JACK ARNOLD AT UNIVERSAL” - Excellent documentary of the director’s work for Universal.

“THE INFINITESIMAL: REMEMBERING THE SHRINKING MAN” - Interview with author-screenwriter Richard Matheson’s son, Richard Christian Matheson, who  discusses his father’s work during that period.

“TERROR AT EVERY TURN” - SFX featurette.

“LET’S GET SMALL” - Charming conversation about the film between director Joe Dante and comedian Dana Gould.

1983 INTERVIEW WITH JACK ARNOLD

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By historian Tom Weaver & music expert David Schecter.

TEASER & TRAILER - Narrated by Orson Welles, whose voiceover can also be heard on the main menus screen (a nice touch).

8 MM HOME-CINEMA VERSIONS - I actually think this was my first introduction to the movie...back when I was just a young ‘un!

“THE LOST MUSIC OF THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN” - Lost or unused music pieces, hosted by David Schecter.

SUSPENSE: “RETURN TO DUST” - 19 minute radio play with a similar concept.

ESSAY - By author Geoffrey O’Brien (located in the insert, along with cast & crew credits).

KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEE-OW! LIKE TAUNTING A MOUSE TO DEATH.

October 12, 2021

Tune-in to 99.9

99.9 (Blu-ray Review)
1997 / 111 min

FROM CULT EPICS

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

One of the cooler things about this gig is having the opportunity to discover older films that somehow escaped my radar. And even though I’m fairly well-versed in the horror genre, I must confess I’d never previously heard of 99.9, even though it’s 24 years old. For that, I blame my local Blockbuster, which hardly ever carried foreign films, to say nothing of foreign horror films.

That being said, 99.9 is a dark, atmospheric gem..


The title refers to a radio station where Lara (Maria Barranco) is the host of a paranormal phone-in talk show. Following the mysterious - and violent - death of her estranged boyfriend, she receives a videotape he made of bizarre experiments he was conducting in a rural Spanish village. Lara goes there hoping to learn more about what happened, only to find the village mostly abandoned, and the creepy house where the experiments took place has a pretty nasty reputation for killing people.


Lara learns her auto warranty is about to expire.
But don’t start assuming this is just another haunted house story. It's far more intriguing than that. The owners of the place had their mother, Delores (Terele Pavez), committed for claiming the numerous faces in the walls are actually alive. We see those faces often as the story unfolds...sometimes clearly, other times barely visible. Either way, they’re visually unnerving, kind of like when you start seeing faces in the stucco if you stare at the ceiling long enough. In fact, a creepy atmosphere hangs over the entire film. Aided by truly impressive cinematography, 99.9 almost has the look and feel of folk-horror.

In addition to the unique assortment of oddball characters - only Lara seems to have her head screwed on right - the initially languid tone & pace slowly ramps up the tension, culminating in a climax that’s both disturbing and grotesquely funny. Best of all, this is a smart film, with interesting, unpredictable plot revelations. Therefore, 99.9 is highly recommended for adventurous horror lovers.


EXTRA KIBBLES

“THE MAKING OF 99.9” - Vintage featurette.

INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR AGUSTI VILLARONGA 

ISOLATED MUSIC SCORE

TRAILERS - From various Agusti Villaronga films.

BLU-RAY & DVD COPIES

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

October 11, 2021

LEGEND (1985): More of Ridley's Revisions

LEGEND Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)
1985 / 98 min (Theatrical Cut) / 113 min (Director’s Cut)

FROM ARROW VIDEO

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

I’m a big fan of Ridley Scott. Alien, The Martian and Black Hawk Down are among some of my favorite films. At the same time, you’re looking at the one guy who hated Blade Runner and thinks Gladiator is one of the worst films to ever take home a Best Picture Oscar. But that’s what makes him interesting. The content and quality of his films vary so wildly that even most of his failures are somewhat fascinating. 

Of course, ‘failure’ is a relative term. Take 1985’s Legend, for instance. Like Blade Runner, it was a box office failure upon release, but has since developed a cult following, albeit on a much smaller scale. The film was similarly dismissed by most critics at the time, though unlike Blade Runner, nobody’s retroactively mistaking this one for a masterpiece. 


But you can always tell when a Ridley Scott film has a significant fanbase because there will inevitably be a Director’s Cut, often supervised by Scott himself. Only George Lucas is more notorious for tinkering with his own movies. However, I have to admit that his post-release meddling has occasionally resulted in a better film. I still think Blade Runner sucks, but must admit his 2007 Final Cut (so far) is at-least watchable. 


Likewise, Legend’s 2002 Director’s Cut is something of an improvement, though still doesn’t address the film’s most glaring issues, most notably the generic story, laughable dialogue and a complete lack of interesting or original characters. However, the ending is more intriguing and Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic score better suits the story than Tangerine Dream’s new-age synths used in the theatrical version. There’s also a lot to love elsewhere - in either version - such as the lavish production design and Rob Bottin’s fantastic make-up work. 


"Who left the goddamn Legos on the floor!"

And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Tom Cruise (looking like a 15-year-old) is actually pretty good. Before he became a box office phenom, there was always something endearingly earnest about his performances. I wish I could say the same thing about Tim Curry, who plays the Lord of Darkness. I know his performance has received praise - and he
does attack the role with gusto - but his face and unique mannerisms are buried under so much make-up that the character could have been played by anybody. On a somewhat related note, I can’t help but think Lord of Darkness somehow influenced the depiction of Satan in Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.

The coolest thing about this new set is that both versions of the film are included, and there are enough significant differences between them that fans should have a good time concluding which is superior (if they haven’t already done so). Additionally, there are the usual bells and whistles that have become hallmarks of Arrow’s Limited Edition series...plenty of new & archival bonus features, a poster, lobby cards, photos, a meaty booklet and gorgeous packaging. 


For those who love the film, this is a must own. For Ridley Scott fans, the significant changes and supplements might be interesting enough to warrant a purchase. For everyone else...why are you still reading this?


EXTRA KIBBLES

THEATRICAL & DIRECTOR’S CUTS

“THE DIRECTORS: RIDLEY SCOTT” - An hour-long documentary on director Ridley Scott.

“CREATING A MYTH: MEMORIES OF LEGEND” - Another lengthy retrospective doc, featuring interviews with cast & crew.

FEATURETTES - “Remembering a Legend” (new featurette); “Incarnations of a Legend” (a look at differents version of the film); “The Music of Legend, Parts 1 & 2” (one for each individual score); “The Creatures of Legend, Parts 1 & 2” (Illustrations & make-up effects); Orihinal promotional featurette.

2 ISOLATED MUSIC TRACKS - 1) By Tangerine Dream; 2) Isolated music & effects track.

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By Ridley Scott (director’s cut); 2) By Paul M. Sammon (theatrical cut).

ALTERNATE SCENES & FOOTAGE - Includes a 10-minute alternate pening and a 90 second TV version opening.

8 STORYBOARDS

2 DRAFTS OF THE SCREENPLAY - First draft & shooting script.

4 TRAILERS & TV SPOTS

3 IMAGE GALLERIES

59 PAGE BOOK - Includes 3 essays, a book excerpt from the original screenwriter, textual interview with DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika, original production notes, Ridley Scott notes on the 2011 Blu-ray, cast, crew & restoration credits.

10 GLOSSY PROMOTIONAL PHOTOS 

6 LOBBY CARD REPLICAS

2-SIDED POSTER - With new and original artwork.

REVERSIBLE COVER - With new and original artwork.


KITTY CONSENSUS:

NOT BAD. THE MOVIE IS MIDDLING, BUT THIS SET IS LOADED.

October 9, 2021

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS in Glorious 4K

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (4K UHD Review)
2009 / 153 min

FROM UNIVERSAL

Review by Tiger the Terrible😺

In this writer’s humble opinion, Quentin Tarantino is our greatest living filmmaker. Sure, it’s fashionable in certain snob circles to dismiss him as a brash rip-off artist who’s made millions by raiding the past. But hey, The Beatles were the sum of their influences, too, and with the possible exception of Chuck Berry, no one ever bitched about it. 

Previous films and directors - both legendary & obscure - may inspire Tarantino, but like the Fab Four, his work bears his own indelible stamp. Each displays an unadulterated love of movies and his enthusiasm is contagious. His best remains Pulp Fiction, but it’s been damn fun watching him try to top himself and it’ll indeed be a sad day indeed if he ever makes good on the threat to retire after 10 films.


If Pulp Fiction is his best, Inglourious Basterds runs a close second. Not-so-much a war film as a celebration of the genre - particularly the European variety - it’s a brilliantly written piece of revisionist history, peppered with some of Tarantino’s liveliest dialogue. Naturally, he didn’t do it all alone. Perhaps more than any previous film, a couple of brilliant performances (by Brad Pitt & Christoph Waltz) are every bit as important to its overall success. Though top-billed, Pitt ain’t in the film nearly enough, while Waltz totally deserved his Oscar for Best Actor with a performance I never get tired of watching.


So of course the film is worth owning, but is it worth owning in 4K? That’s actually a tough question to answer. The original Blu-ray release already featured a pretty awesome video quality, so the differences between that one and this 4K picture are relatively small, mostly noticeable in the sharper facial details during close-up shots. Maybe someone with a better set-up than mine could argue otherwise. On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS audio is awesome.

Other than a digital copy, there aren’t any new bonus features. All of them are carried over from previous releases. Included on both the 4K and accompanying Blu-ray disc, they’re interesting and often pretty funny. But really, it’s only hard core videophiles who need to consider any kind of upgrade. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

4k, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION - The best of the bonus features, Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt talk with moderator Elvis Mitchell.

THE NEW YORK TIMES TALKS - An hour-long Q&A

“NATION’S PRIDE” - The Eli Roth-directed short that served as the film shown in the French cinema during the final act.

FEATURETTES - “The Making of ‘Nation’s Pride’”; “The Original Inglorious Bastards” (a tribute to the film - and its director - that inspired the title); “A Conversation with Rod Taylor” (Taylor played Churchill in the film); “Rod Taylor on Victoria Bitters” (an amusing anecdote); “Hi Sallys” (something of a running gag during Tarantino shoots, in reference to editor Sally Menke); “Quentin Tarantino’s Camera Angel” (the director’s amusing clapboard operator).

VARIOUS DOMESTIC & FOREIGN TRAILERS

POSTER GALLERY

KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEE-OW! LIKE BEING TURNED LOOSE IN A BIRD SANCTUARY.
(though the disc itself is only recommended for big 4K fans)